"My spirits are high. We will see each other soon."
Anna Ventura wrote these words to her family on a postcard that she threw from the cattle car whilst being deported from the Fossoli detention camp to Auschwitz. At that moment, the train left Italian soil and crossed the border into Austria.
In 1927, Anna Terracina of Rome married Mordechai Luigi Ventura from Pisa. They were both descendants of illustrious Jewish families that had lived in Italy for hundreds of years. Luigi was a doctor of chemistry and pharmacy, and Anna was a teacher in the Jewish school in Rome. The couple moved to Milan and made their home there. Luigi would lay tefillin (phylacteries) and pray at home every morning before leaving for work. In 1928, their daughter Miriam was born, followed by their son Shaul in 1930. In 1934, the family moved to Venice, and two years later, they had another son, Daniel. Luigi was offered a prestigious position as manager of the chemical department of the national Italian mint, and they moved to Rome. In 1938, Luigi was fired for being Jewish, in accordance with the racial laws that were passed in Italy. In an effort to find work and a better future, Anna and Luigi moved to Switzerland with their children. Luigi was unable to obtain a work permit, and four months later the family was forced to split up; Luigi moved to Paris and found work in an aeroplane factory in the area, and Anna and the three children returned to Italy, where their fourth child, Emanuel, was born the same year.
Anna and the children moved from place to place. In the summer of 1940, following the German occupation of Paris, Luigi rode back to Italy by bicycle, a journey of some 1800 km, and the family was reunited in Milan. Difficulties finding work kept them from staying in one place, and they moved to Mariano Comense. When Italy was occupied by the Germans in September 1943, the Venturas escaped to Milan together with Anna's mother Giulia Terracina, and from there, moved to the village of Abbiate Guazzone, where Luigi had acquaintances.
In an effort to avoid being hunted down, they left their house in the village in December 1943 and moved into hiding on the other side of the street. Giulia fell ill, and while trying to bring medicine from their previous home, Anna was caught by Italian policemen. She was sent to prison in Milan, and from there, to the Fossoli concentration camp. Somehow, Anna managed to smuggle her fur coat and diamond ring out of the police station to her family, in an effort to help them survive.
Anna succeeded in sending 18 letters and postcards to her husband and children, the last of which is displayed in this exhibition. Anna's mother Giulia, consumed by guilt about her daughter's arrest, gave herself up to the authorities, was interned in Fossoli, and perished in the camp in her daughter's arms. On 22 February 1944, Anna Ventura was deported from Fossoli to her death in Auschwitz.
Luigi and the children continued to flee from place to place. In May 1944, Luigi was injured in the course of a train bombardment near Pisa while he was on his way to his children. He was hospitalized and died of his injuries there.
After the Ventura children's hiding place in Pisa was bombed, they managed to find refuge in a monastery, and later in the hospital. 16-year-old Miriam, 14-year-old Shaul, 8-year-old Daniel and 6-year-old Emanuel were liberated in Pisa in August 1944. They knew that their father had died, but were hoping that their mother would still return. Jewish soldiers from Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) serving with the British Army took them under their wing and brought them to a Jewish children's home in Florence. Emanuel became ill, and despite efforts to cure him, he died in Florence in January 1945.
In March 1945, before the end of the war, Miriam, Shaul and Daniel immigrated to Eretz Israel.
In 1956, Shulamit (Miriam) Kretzner (Ventura) submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her parents, Chana-Anna and Mordechai-Luigi, and her brother Emanuel. In 2006. Daniel Ventura submitted a Page of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of his grandmother Giulia and other relatives. In 2012, Shaul Ben-Torah (Ventura) donated his mother's letters, and documents and family photographs to Yad Vashem for posterity, as part of the "Gathering the Fragments" project.
24 February 1944
My very dear ones,
My spirits are very high. We will see each other soon. Lots of kisses to all of you. All my thoughts are of you.
The postcard was written on the deportation train that left the Fossili camp for Auschwitz on 22 February 1944, and was thrown from the train on 24 February, as it crossed the border between Italy and Austria. Anna wrote the words, "Please send this postcard by mail" on the postcard, in the hope that someone would find it. Fearing that the secret police may not allow the postcard to reach its destination if they thought that it had been thrown from a train of Jews being sent to their death, Anna used a common Christian name as that of the sender. She gave "Bolzano", a city on the Austro-German border as the sender's address, to offer a clue as to where she was being transported. The postcard contained her last words.